A DM’s Look at D&D Essentials

Like many of you, I was very interested to hear more about D&D Essentials. A lot of people whisper the threat of “D&D 4.5” and narrow their eyes as they grab a hold of their wallets for fear that Mike Mearls will pluck it out of their hands. We have a lot of questions rolling around in our heads. As primarily a dungeon master, I have a lot of questions about what this will do to my game. Today we’re going to take a look at what D&D Essentials could mean for us dungeon masters.


Probably our biggest concern is compatibility. Will all of the stuff coming out in Essentials be compatible with stuff I already have? Every word from WOTC says “yes” and I imagine they’re right.

At least, it’s as compatible as the rest of 4e is right now.

That’s a statement with some subtext so let me clarify. 4e has changed a lot over the past two years. The mechanical design we see in later books is quite different from the design we see in the early releases. For DM’s, I think these design changes are clearly seen when comparing monsters at the paragon tier and above across all three Monster Manuals. I’ll talk more about this in a bit. For players, it’s seen clearly in the huge number of updates to the core classes and powers in the original Player’s Handbook. The core classes today are very different from those in the original Player’s Handbook. The recent change to Magic Missile is one such example.

The one thing keeping players sane is the Character Builder. Because it’s constantly updated, we don’t have to worry too much about keeping up with all of the updates. Of course, it makes us look at our core rulebooks and wonder why we bother to carry them around. I know I’ve stopped doing so. I might as well be bringing a Laurell K. Hamilton hardback for all the good they’d do me at the table.

So, considering this, D&D Essentials will likely be as compatible as any other book we have. We could still use monsters out of the Monster Manual 1, but Gods help you if you don’t houserule creatures above level 11 with higher damage output. An Essential cleric can still fight with a PHB3 monk. All the basic mechanics of skills and attack rolls and what not are still the same.

Mixing Essentials with older material will work. It just might not work well, depending on what books or adventures or modules you run. But if you have experience running a lot of games, you’ll know how it won’t work because it isn’t working well already. There’s no way I can run Orcus from the Monster Manual 1 as written against a group of level 30 players with all of the books. He would be a joke.

Character balance

With all of the books and Dragon magazine articles that are out, we’ve gone from a selection of a dozen feats or so and about four or five powers per level to nearly 100 feats per tier and maybe 15 powers per level to choose from. With all of this we can’t help but min-max at least a little bit. It gets even more out of hand at level 30 when a mixture of powers, items, feats, paragon paths, and epic destinies from nearly one hundred sources can create some catastrophically unbalanced effects. Take a look at the paladin’s ability to do 250 damage on a single hit for example (thank you, Matt James). WOTC cannot even update this sort of thing because it isn’t any one unbalanced effect, it’s a whole combination of powers, items, and feats that, on their own, are fine. When you have too many options in a game, you cannot know how they will be used in combination.

So what will D&D Essentials do for this? If you play it by letting your Essential fighter choose any power from any previous book, it will likely result in something just as unbalanced. All Essentials will do is add more options into the giant pool of options we already have. For some players, it’s overwhelming. For others it’s exactly what they want. For DM’s it’s such a challenge that we simply don’t pretend to keep track of it. We just hope they’re being policed by their neighbors.

But what if you played Essentials alone? What if you built a campaign or a ChattyDM-style mini-series that only used Essential classes with Essential options? That might actually work pretty well, depending on how Wizards balances Essentials classes. With a limited number of options that were built in isolation from the existing game, they could build some really well-balanced classes. You could run a Essentials campaign with some newly built characters that have the power we DM’s expect.

We’ll be interested in how they designed it and how they balanced it. Will they have the equivalent rogue paragon path of Daggermaster with its over-the-top critical range? Will they still have my accursed paladin “Hospitaler’s Blessing” that seemed to reduce beholders to a sack of kobold minions? I guess we’ll have to see.

Monster Manual 1.5

While current players have the character builder to keep them updated, DM’s don’t have it as easy. Unlike the Character Builder with it’s continued updates, WOTC never actually updated the original monsters with the updated math we find in the Monster Manual 3. Our first Monster Manual is pretty useless above level 10 and there’s no other way to update the monsters within other than to do it ourselves.

The Monster Manual 3‘s design made it the first book we could run at the table in a long while without houseruling it. Some things were still missing like stun and daze protection for many Solos, but overall the accuracy, defenses, and damage are well tuned.

With the original Monster Manual so out of date, we can hope that the D&D Essentials Monster Vault is our re-written Monster Manual. Some might be upset buying a book full of existing monsters again. I’m just happy to have an ancient red dragon I don’t have to build from scratch.

So the D&D Essentials Monster Vault could very well be the Monster Manual 1.5 that we’ve (or at least I’ve) been waiting for. We’ll have to see what they include, but I’d assume chromatic dragons will be there. We probably won’t see a new Orcus now that he’s been re-written three times (badly) I don’t expect we’ll see a fourth. That’s OK, Gamefiend and I live for building out our own Worldbreaking versions of a guy like Orcus.

The tool for the job

I am happy to see WOTC’s plan to include everything players need to play in this product line. I was always bothered by the idea that players couldn’t really play Keep on the Shadowfell without buying wet or dry-erase maps from a third party. How would someone new to the game know to go to Paizo and pick up a Gamemastery flip map? I also like that monster tokens are included in three of the products: the DM Kit, the Monster Vault, and the Starter. I have quite the miniature collection going, but I’m guessing a lot of DMs, including new DMs, don’t. Poster maps also seem to be included in every product with an adventure, which is nice. I also heard that all of the adventures they are publishing for this line will use the tiles found in the Essential Dungeon Tile sets. This is something I’m also looking forward to.

Dungeons and Dragons 4.5?

Probably the biggest complaint with this whole release is the feeling like you have to buy stuff you already bought. We don’t seem to mind buying new Power books for our characters or even a new Player’s Handbook, but buying a new Monster Vault full of monsters from the Monster Manual 1 is vexing. Why didn’t they release it right the first time?

We could play armchair product designer all day long but it simply takes us to the following possible actions.

You can ignore this and keep playing with the stuff you have. D&D is still D&D regardless of whether you play with the original un-errata’d Players Handbook or the entire set of D&D Essentials.

You can just houserule the hell out of stuff. I’ve been doing this more and more in my own game to keep up with the pace of power in our player characters. It puts a lot of demands on the DM but the results are a game tuned around your specific players.

You can seek the improvements in the game and buy the Essentials stuff. I know, for the amount of time and energy I put into the game, I’m happy to have an updated Monster Vault. I can’t wait. I don’t know how my players will feel about the Essential classes yet, but we’ll see. Either way, I’ll have some new tools to use.

Is it D&D 4.5? Not really. Because it’s still “fully compatible” with all of the stuff this far, and it is for the most part, it isn’t an entirely new addition.

Whether you’re as excited about this as I am or angry about what this might mean for D&D, we’ll all be watching for the release and what it might do to the game we love.


  1. TheMainEvent says:

    I always wonder about less savvy gamers out there. What if you just buy the odd book (like, say you’re 11 years old) and just play with a bunch of kids your age (as many of us did)? You don’t have insider, or any notion to check for errata. It seems like WotC is getting to the point where they’re making books obsolete in favor of revenue stream. That’s fine, but it makes the books a ‘lie’ in that just about everything gets errated and updated to death to the point where you can’t even find a real paper finished product. I’m guessing for most players, Essentials will just represent a whole new set of options that pop up online to peruse and abuse.

  2. Excellent, well balanced and well thought-through post.

    I’m really looking forward to the D&D Essentials line, both as a whole new product to introduce new players to the game as well as a means to collate updates & changes to the game as its evolved into a unified tome.

    The fact that we can mix and match character classes between Essentials & the existing books is a big win for me. I can hand a character to a new & inexperienced player and they can join us, right at the “big boy’s” table. This isn’t a dumbed down product, but the real deal in a simpler to understand and more accessible package. Add class builds which (hopefully) lack the complexity that the core classes have become (even with the Character Builder) and it should be an approachable way to get new players to more appreciate the game. Hand a player (even an experienced one coming form Third Edition) a copy of the PHB and they run a mile. I know. I’ve tried, and they have.

    D&D Essentials is one product line which (provided it lives up to my hopes, and its looking good so far) I plan to get behind 100%.

  3. Thanks for a thoughtful consideration of the line. We’ll all know better how to “take” the line when we see more of its content. Compared to the rate at which I lay out a lot more than the cost of a D&D core rulebook for annual software updates, the “obsolescence” of MM1, doesn’t irk me too much. I would like to know up front if the Essentials Monster Vault will include “new math” versions of MM1 creatures—which is probably the only reason I, a DDI subscriber, would buy the Vault.

  4. I think everyone saw that one coming. 3.5 anyone? Actually you can replace “D&D Essentials” for D&D 3.5 and 4E for 3E and this article would be equally valid (or invalid).

    And that’s why I switched to Pathfinder.

  5. Good post. It’s my personal belief that people get too worked up about these things. I can understand why they may be irked of course, but your point that ‘Its still D&D, and you can houserule it if you want’ says everything.

    If someone should ask why they should have to do that seeing as the game should be balanced from day one, well, all I can say is that you’d still be waiting for a “fully balanced” fourth edition – the nature of the game means it’s never going to be 100% right. And if they did everything they could to maintain balance over all other considerations (like fun, for example), then we’d have a pretty boring game and players would have something different to complain about.

    As for casual gamers, MainEvent, I think they’re going to be alright on the whole. Maybe it’s just me, but I know when I was 11 I wasn’t too concerned with pushing the mechanics of a system to their limits in order to maximise my damage output. Casual gamers who don’t read errata or own every book will have as much fun as everyone else, perhaps moreso because they’re focussed on what the game is actually about: sitting around a table whilst saving villagers from kobolds.

    That’s my view anyways. At the end of the day if you don’t like it, don’t buy it.

  6. Great Post Mike!

    To answer TheMainEvent’s question/comment: “What if you just buy the odd book (like, say you’re 11 years old) and just play with a bunch of kids your age (as many of us did)? You don’t have insider, or any notion to check for errata.”

    Well, to be honest, if I was 11 or 14 or something, and I picked up the PHB and the DMG, I would run the game with those two books and probably have a blast. I wouldn’t need the updates or the Character Builder. If I didn’t have a notion to check for them, so much the better.

    The original 4e core books, even with as much as they have been updated, are pretty robust and a new gaming group of young players, if devoted enough to run the game out of just the PHB and DMG, would have no problems with imbalance or “problem” rules.

    Many (not all) of the updates have been for
    1) simply to clarify wording based on questions/comments from customers
    2) to keep the PHB balanced with each new release that come out.

    A new group of 11-15 year olds doesn’t have to worry about either of those two things, just like my original D&D group didn’t way back in the early 80s when we first started.

    As to the original topic – I am looking forward to the Essentials line. I hope that it truly is a way for new players to pick up an inexpensive set and start playing with an easily-readable, well-put-together product.

    It may be interesting to run an “Essentials Only” campaign…. hmmmm, now I may have to see who wants to play in my essentials game.

  7. Good post.

    Hmmm. Maybe it’s time to talk about the nature of designing for an evolving game.

  8. Yongkyosunim says:

    I don’t play 4e, but I want to get the Essentials Red Box for Ye Olde Tymes sake.

  9. Good post. I have been having some difficult time with 4e because of the geyser of product Wizards keeps pushing out, and as a new DM I feel completely overwhelmed at this point. One reply said “if you don’t like it, don’t buy it”, well, we all already OWN it! And now I feel as if the only way I can keep current is to use the compendium/character builder. Problem is then, why the hell did I buy all these books? When I want to help someone with their character leveling up or something, I don’t pull out a book, I open DDI. At this point it doesn’t feel like an RPG to me.
    I never played 3.5 or earlier (was always a MERP guy myself), I have to ask, were there similarly large changes via errata in other editions of D&D? Right now it feels like 4e is more like 4.5 and the books haven’t caught up.

  10. Interesting perspective. I’m hopeful the essentials line will do something similar to what the original red box and related box sets did back in the day. I was first introduced to D&D via the early 80s red box. It cam with everything you needed to play (including a crayon for marking the numbers on the dice). We, as kids, played hours upon hours, purely based on that one box. I’m sure, at the time, the super niche hardcore players were up in arms about the stripped down ruleset and options. But in the end, it got me in the hobby and here I am 27 years later, still talking about it. If the essentials line can even be half that successful, we should all be hopeful. I’d have never gotten into D&D in the first were it only available in full size hard bound books.

    Also, with regard to the MM1.5 and D&D4.5. Those complaints ring as rather hollow. My gaming group doesn’t really follow all the errata. We play any characters available in the creator and use monsters from MM 1,2 and 3 as well as whatever comes in old and new published adventures, and we’ve yet to see anything I would consider game breaking. If a battle goes a bit easier or harder than I as a DM had planned, that’s pretty normal and has been since the beginning. I think the only ones likely to have complaints are people so intent on the perfection of rules and balance as to LOOK for such issues. As a general player, DM or hobbyist, you’re unlikely to ever notice the issues you mention.

  11. TheMainEvent says:

    @esspkay/DMSamuel: I began on 2E/Advanced at about that age and the flaws were glaring, but of course errata and updates weren’t the same as today. I guess, in general, its just become clear that the paper model isn’t the model they actually expect the game to played with. I don’t fault that, but its just seems that there a lot of aspects of the game that, the instant they hit, my play group flags as flawed. It just rankles me that that a lot of books are implicitly presented as completed and refined, but they really aren’t… they’re works in progress.

  12. @TheMainEvent I guess that was kind of my point though. The flaws were glaring, yes, but you still played the way you thought was fun. You did this regardless of whether or not there was errata available or haw many books you owned, or which edition was coming out later on. You did it to have fun with what you had, and hat is what someone picking up essentials will hopefully do, and what someone who picks up the PHB and DMG will do, regardless of how old they are or how glaring some of the flaws may be.

    This remains the same for this latest edition. ALL of the editions have flaws. There will be no game system that is perfect and flawless, it just isn’t possible for a game system to be that way – it isn’t possible to satisfy the multitude of RPG players out there, otherwise there would only be 1 flawless, perfect game system that satisfies everyone’s every need… not gonna happen.

  13. A good thoughtful post, Mike, but as one of those people who “whisper the threat of “D&D 4.5? and narrow their eyes as they grab a hold of their wallets”, I can’t help but find the historical similarities between D&D Essentials and 3.5 a bit too much to bear. Weren’t their similar claims of compatibility between 3rd Edition and 3.5, only to have WotC go back and re-write and re-release most of the 3rd Edition content, and which fairly well forced us all to re-buy book after book?

    And WotC could have resolved the issues you speak of regarding “Monster Manual 1.5” by simply updating Adventure Tools – which I might add, we all pay our DDI monthly payments for – without forcing a new book on us.

    I hate to be a nay-sayer, as I like what 4E represented when it first came out – a fresh new approach to playing D&D. But with the backpedaling toward the 3.5 mechanics that seem to be sprinkled into D&D Essentials, I can’t help but think of it as anything but D&D 4.5E, and that makes me awfully sad.

  14. Michelle says:

    That’s “Laurell K. Hamilton”, thank you very much. I worked with her husband and played D&D with her several times before she made the big time. A delightful woman, at least at the time — so be kind and spell her name correctly!

    Otherwise, thank you for an informative take on Essentials. It will be very interesting to see how the compatibility issue works out.

  15. @ Neuroglyph
    I would agree with you, except for one significant difference: when 3.5 was marketed, everybody knew it was the next iteration of D&D, intended to wholly replace the 3.0 that had come before it. It appears right now (and will either be proved or disproved in WotC’s design and marketing over the course of the next 12-18 months or so) that D&D Essentials is going to be an ENTIRELY different product line. It’s intended to be usable alongside 4E, but WotC has said over and over that they are not going to cease putting out 4E material, using the established 4E design philosophies.

    Basically, Essentials appears to be a case of adding a variant to the product line, as opposed to 3.5’s clear intent to replace the ruleset that had come before it.

  16. Dave – ” It seems like WotC is getting to the point where they’re making books obsolete in favor of revenue stream.” So… what else is new? [runs and hides]

    OK.. but more seriously. This has been done before – more than once – hasn’t it? I mean; they’re even reusing the same artwork. I think think the business model is flawed. Gamers today are still being treated like the gamers of the 1980’s only technology (a temporary carrot) is keeping the “buy in” going.

  17. OK… maybe not exactly the same artwork… but…

  18. Laurell K. Hamilton may be the Queen Elizabeth of vampire slash fiction but that doesn’t make her books any more useful at a D&D table. You can apologize directly to her on my behalf, however. “The asshole wannabe game writer on Critical Hits apologizes for being an asshole”.

  19. What’s funny is for the price of D&D Insider, I get all the new rules, character updates, etc. I don’t even have to buy any of the new books.
    Will I buy the new D&D Essentials books? Probably not.
    Will I get to build a new D&D Essentials character? Yes

    Sure I don’t get some of the fluff, but I’m definitely not going to complain about it. This is the first edition where this is even possible, there is absolutely no reason to complain anymore….. except…

    for DMs, as you pointed out, Monster Manual, rules erratas are a little harder to keep updated and consistent. So maybe having a rule book with all the updated rules would be nice.

    Until the next errata.

    The thing I don’t even understand is how people think is it a new edition? Did they think that when PHB2 came out? Its all just marketing and I personally think is a good thing if it brings more people to the hobby.

  20. Bill Slavicsek: “We’ve charted a new direction in class design with the Essentials products. It’s a direction we intend to use from here on out… The Essentials products allow us to roll out new approaches within the scope of the current game, not force you to buy new books and abandon your old ones.”

    I won’t be buying anymore books, period. While I’m playing 4e, I’ll keep my subscription, and drop it temporarily while I’m not. Who’s to say that in two more years they don’t do the same thing again? That’s when we’ll have Original 4e, Essentials 4e, and then Advanced 4e – all different “directions” of the same game.

    However, I’m still looking forward to the new product line. What can I say? It’s intriguing.

  21. Michelle says:

    Mike @July 20, 2010 at 8:04 pm: No one asked for an apology or called you a bad name — I merely pointed out in what I thought was an obviously light-hearted way that you got her name wrong. And between your writings here and at Sly Flourish, you are probably my favorite D&D blogger, so you ain’t no kinda “wannabe” in my book.

  22. When I first read about the essentials product I actually really wanted a 4.5, or at least some alternatives with dealing with certain concepts I was not really digging (daily powers). Seeing all the current whispered threats of a 4.5 was kind of amusing for me, because I’d have welcomed the change. I’m actually more disappointed that the changes won’t be much at all, and if anything the biggest thing that’s really changing is presentation, which is the thing I least concerned myself with.

    As far as Errata is concerned. I bought the 4e box set when it came out. It’s basically unplayable now, really, unless I want to go through the exercise of clipping little print-outs all over it. That bothers me a little, but not much. After a year I stopped buying hard product and I don’t think I’ll start buying it again. I also haven’t bought DDI though. I just get installs from a friend. But I don’t really play much anymore and don’t DM, so the whole enterprise works aside from me.

  23. Just listened to the D&D podcast. It goes in depth about the essentials products. They sound like no problem at all. Just some simplified builds that maintain overall balance and a simplified explanation of the rules, all boxed up nice and neat to attract new players. I don’t think they will effect existing players at all, unless you’re interested in some of the simplified builds. Sounds like they will function nicely alongside existing builds. The rules compendium sounds nice too, if you want to bring DDI along with you when you don’t have access to the online compendium. If someone new to the game asks me what to get, I would definitely tell them to start with the essentials product.

  24. I predict that the essentials line will be released and many of us will buy it and love it. I for one plan on picking it up piece by piece as it is launched. What can I say? I’m dedicated to placing my paychecks in WotC’s pockets. But one thing I can’t understand it the argument that compatibility equals same version.

    We operate under a false notion that because the essentials line is compatible that it must not be a new 4.25 or 4.5. The only reason we think this is due to haw badly 3 to 3.5 was botched. Just because the move from 3 to 3.5 was not compatible does not mean that a “version” is defined by compatibility.

    In the programing world new software versions are released all the time with little fan fair or worry as long as they are still compatible with previous versions and the over all OS. a new “Version” is defined by the addition or subtraction of features, the manipulation of functionality and the repair of bugs or broken function in the previous version. All things I see in the essentials line.

    The truth is I’m not worried about a new version, I would love to see some things fixed. I’m not worried about buying new books, I love buying new books. I’m not worried and I don’t think others should be either, but I do think it’s funny that to avoid a word that WotC kind of gave a bad name they are once again trying to redefine it. the word “Version” never had a bad connotation until 3.5 and to me it still doesn’t, Hell if 5th edition comes out and is compatible with 4th it’s still 5th edition, wouldn’t that be awesome though.

  25. Good post.

    I think what we’re seeing here is just the ever-evolving nature of RPG’s combined with the 21st century world of real-time communication. When I was playing as a kid in the early 80’s there was no way I was going to get some sort of errata or rules update for my game, if such a thing even existed. These days a company like WotC is constantly recieving feedback and opinion from us. They can update, clarify, change, or alter things quickly and have it back to us over the course of weeks or months. Turn-around time on game improvement and evolution is a fraction of what it was 10, 20, or 30 years ago.

    It can be a little overwhelming but with things like DDI it’s completely manageable. I for one like participating in the “evolution” of my favorite hobby.

  26. I see the essentials line like you do. It is a marketing tool primarily for injection into bookstores – the trade paperback dress creates a much better price point. I agree that the overall effect will be more options for the min/max crowd.
    I am actually more interested in matt james treatise on the 250 damage paladin build. I went searching for it and can’t find the article. Do you have a link?

  27. I’ve recently had to defend 4E to some 3.5 holdout friends, and I did a decent enough job (I guess) that they agreed to play a one-shot I’d DM to let me put my money where my mouth is. Problem is my group’s been on indefinite hiatus for over a year now, and I’m so out of practice with the rules, that I’d have to brush up myself first. And with all the errata and content over the last couple of years, that’s a daunting prospect.

    I welcome the Essentials line as a way to introduce new players to the game without getting them mired in off-putting quantity of content and errata. I think, given that there’s only a few weeks before the box set comes out, I’m going to wait for that before running that one-shot.

    There’s something more I want to see though: with the upcoming Rules Compendium, it appears we’ve reached a milestone for rules updates and WotC is at least moderately confident in the rules as they stand. So what I’m suggesting is that, over the course of a few months, they re-release the core rulebooks in paperback (read: cheaper) format, with all the various tweaks and nerfs and updates streamlined in. That doesn’t seem too unwieldy of a task; almost all of the errata is of the “replace X text with Y text” or “change the values in chart Z to…” varieties, and they could probably reuse all of the old layouts and art exactly as they are. If they went in and fixed some or all of the many, many typos in the books, that would just be gravy. I don’t think the various ___ Powers books need the same treatment, just the PHB, DMG, MM, and perhaps their various sequels. I for one would gladly pay for that.

  28. @xerosided

    I totally agree. I’d add one thing: Nobody is every satisfied.

    While I would get in line with you for the updated products you mention, I’m quite certain there would be vociferous complaints at reusing art from previous editions, or that the books should be free since we should have gotten “proper” books to begin with etc. Also, do they stop printing the existing core books and go to a soft cover only option? Or do they reprint the hardcovers with the updates as well? There’s really no good way for them to make everybody happy AND keep it simple. But yeah, I think I want what you want.

  29. @mbeacom: I’m OK with not being able to keep everybody happy. There’s a fine line between reasonable, well-informed, but demanding customer and rabid fanboy, and as long as they try to satisfy the former, I couldn’t care less about what the latter group thinks. I like 4E, I like what they’ve tried to do with 4E, and I see where the flaws have been in implementation. Many of those problems would have been hard if not impossible to predict ahead of time.

    What I’m suggesting is (presumably) a way to fix some of the bigger problems while turning a profit at the same time. Some of the more vocal complainers might see “turning a profit” as an ulterior motive, but WotC is part of Hasbro, and Hasbro is a publicly traded corporation, so maximizing profit for the shareholders is, by law, one of its primary obligations. I’m OK with that too.

  30. If we follow Thadeous’s software analogy, 4e hasn’t been 4.0 since the release of the first wave of errata, or the first Power book, or wherever you wish to locate the first “bug fix” or “new features.” From that perspective, Heroes of the Fallen Lands may take us to D&D 4.50, but if so, it’s taking us there from D&D 4.49.

    But the Essentials products aren’t “compatible with” D&D 4e, they are D&D 4e. WotC personnel have used the phrase “compatible,” but only because questions and objections have come up in those terms. Builds from Heroes of the Fallen Lands are “compatible” with builds in the Player’s Handbook in the same sense that builds from Player’s Handbook 3 are “compatible” with builds in the Player’s Handbook.

    “Essentials” boils down to a sticker (so to speak) that Wizards can put on ten products—four of which, the dice and dungeon tiles, are completely system-neutral—as a stocking guide for retailers and a buying guide for new or returning players. Otherwise, everything in the books is a simple stepwise evolution of the game of the sort we’ve already seen over the last two years.

  31. @xerosided,

    Well said.


    Totally agree.

    I think it’s pretty clear at this point that Essentials isn’t doing what 3.5 did. Sure, if you use the software analogy, you can call it 4. x or whatever, but that analogy is broken. What matters is whether or not this is a change that will split the line the way 3.5 did, and clearly that’s not the case.

    Anyone still clinging to the complaint that Essentials is anything other than a marketing play tied to some rules tweaks for newbies and lapsed players likely has a bone to pick with WotC or D&D, and/or simply isn’t looking at this objectively.

  32. Well, i am a new player, i have being looking for this for a long time, and being the only one nerd enough to be the DM, i guess this set helps because as it was stated it will be cool to start with a set for “Begginers”

    lets just hope i can buy it, i am in México and i cant seem to find it anywhere over here…

  33. I’m glad I don’t pay for any of this stuff and just download it all from the newsgroups – the obvious money-grubbing at work with these products is just ludicrous.

  34. OMG, WoTC has truly found their audience. Dwindling as it may be, I hope it is large enough to sustain them. The people defending WoTC give even more damning comments than the honest criticisms.

  35. im 14 and care alot about maxing damage output and making the game an actual challenge. i bought the DMs toolkit and its perfect for my group who plays 4.0 .i was going to buy mm1 but seeing how all the npc’s got nerfed i am reluctant to do so. as a new dm what monster manual should i buy?

  36. MM3 has the newest math, but MM1 is still pretty useful, with lots of good monsters. If you want a challenge, just use monsters of 3 or 4 levels above your PCs. It will work just fine.

  37. Well then what happens when my adventurers hit 30? do the mobs go above 30 as well? and speaking of which, do they have some type of extension on that(level cap)? like in the PHB2 and PHB3 do they have some type of chart for levels 30 to 40? It would be interesting if they did that, I’d love to get a group from levels 1 to 40 and have them explore all the good stuff:P

  38. Some monsters are over LVL 30, but not many. Thats the kind of thing you don’t need to worry about it until you actually do it. Taking a group from level 1 to 30, playing once a week for 4 hours takes about 2 years.

  39. I play with three different groups, with three different versions of D&D. My old holdout group, that cling onto their 3.5 books like ‘one’ ring. A group I have been playing 4.0 for a year and a half now-it’s a great system if you want to introduce your kids to it or new players, but frankly leaves much to be desired. Like 3.0, there is so much that is broken, I wouldn’t know where to start to fix it. I just started playing in a Pathfinder group and it looks most promising to me, with enough 3.5 flavor, but fixing many of the broken things in 3.5. It is a shame WotC decided to go to such extremes to draw in the WoW crowd and in the process, divide the gaming community to such a degree.


  1. […] have also been posts made about the clutter of errata, changes and fixes, […]

  2. […] doesn’t help when I come across comments such as: The one thing keeping players sane is the Character Builder. Because it’s constantly updated, we […]

  3. […] A DM’s Look at D&D Essentials […]

  4. […] When I wrote about D&D Essentials, I noted that what we have is a rebalanced version of D&D. I love Essentials and I’d love to run an essentials-only high level campaign except for one thing: my players would hate it. Part of their hate would come from seeing all the other options they couldn’t choose. Part of it would be knowing how much more powerful they used to be when they could pick from any source. Part of it is that Essentials is potentially too simple to keep players interested for a full 30 levels of play. […]